I posted a facebook status last night that said I had seen too many good movies lately. Which was by no means the best wording, as my friends pointed out, but it captured the rather odd mood I was in. I have seen a lot of good films lately. And not just fun films, but really deep, moving, artistically excellent films. One of the best is "Anne of the Thousand Days."
I've spent the last decade or so of my life being a Tudor England buff. Although that interest was strongest at ages 11-14, and has been quite less obsessive since then, anything associated with that period will always catch my eye.
Up until a year and a half ago, my view of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, was extremely biased. However, for my college course on the European Reformations, I decided to do my end-of-term paper on the religious beliefs of Anne Boleyn and how the truth of the matter (which we may never know) deeply affects what her motives were in becoming Queen of England. It is a fascinating story and ever since writing that paper I have been extremely interested in her. So when I saw this movie down in the Florida library (yes, I was in Florida), I picked it up immediatly. Even if it wasn't that good, it was sure to be interesting.
"Anne of the Thousand Days" is almost certainly the best Tudor England film I have ever seen (even more so than "Lady Jane" although I also adore that film). It is vibrant, it is moving, it is passionate and though it softens some portions of the story, it remains so remarkably true that at times I could not keep myself from believing that I was watching what had actually happened.
To summerize, the story of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII goes like this: King Henry has watched in growing frustration as his wife, the ageing Queen Katherine, tries in vain to provide him with a living son (all that are born are dead sons and one live daughter, Mary). As it becomes evident that the Queen is too old to bear any more children, Henry begins to panic (Only thirty years before the lack of a concrete heir tore England apart in the War of the Roses). Having fallen in love with a young girl named Anne Boleyn, who refused to be his mistress (as all young girls he fell in love with became), he hit upon the idea of annulling his marriage to the barren Katherine and making Anne his queen. Far from being simple, Henry's idea resulted in an England broken off from the Church of Rome, a Queen that was loathed by the people of England, and one more princess - Elizabeth. Having spent just one thousand days married to Anne (three years), Henry tired of her, and had his Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell dig up evidence that would send Anne to the executioner's block.
Anne's story is the most romantic, the most tragic, and the most well known of all of the stories of Henry's six wives. And it is marvelously played out in "Anne of the Thousand Days."
Richard Burton's Henry and Genevieve Bujold's Anne are phenomenally acted three-dimensional sympathetic characters. Though both make mistakes, they are portrayed without spite. Burton plays Henry as a man who wants desperately to do right - but allows his own passions to cloud his judgement. And Bujold plays Anne with such passion that you can honestly believe that she captured the King of England so completely that he lost the world for her. I've rarely seen historically characters acted so well.
But there is more to endear this film than just good acting. The strength of the film also comes from a powerful and masterfully written script. Based on the stageplay of the same name, it not only tells the gripping story of the King and his Lady, but also of the King's discarded wife, Katherine, who tells her story in brief but effective scenes, and of Anne's sister Mary who, as Henry's former mistress, was also discarded by the King. As Anne is forced to the forefront by their scheming, power hungry family, Mary sits alone, her hand on her pregnant stomach. It is a bitter, merciless world for women.
The men have their day too. Thomas Cromwell rises to power as Cardinal Wosely falls (and makes one want to cry as he leaves his post that he has held so faithfully). Thomas More and Bishop Fisher go to the block for their convictions while Anne's father, uncle and mother push their family into power.
And all this is set against magificent sets and breathtaking costumes that won an Oscar.
It's a wonderful, wonderful film that I would recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in historical drama. And, though the story is adult in nature, (and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 16) it handles the very sexually driven politics with a delicacy you could never find in a film made today. (i.e. "The Other Boleyn Girl")